Las preposiciones POR y PARA

PARA and POR are both equivalent to the English preposition FOR. Not unlike the challenge of acquiring SER and ESTAR (which both equate to English “to be”), deciding which preposition to use in a given context depends on what you are trying to say. Additionally, POR and PARA are used in Spanish in contexts that require other prepositions in English (to, at, etc.), so trying to directly translate from one language to the other is not a helpful strategy. Perhaps the most direct path to understanding how to interpret and use PARA and POR effectively is through examining a list of the separate functions of each preposition.

Funciones de PARA

Se usa PARA para: Ejemplos
1. indicar el destinario

Tengo que hacer la tarea para la clase de español.
I have to do my homework for Spanish class.

Compré esta camiseta para ti.
I bought this t-shirt for you.

2. indicar el propósito

Necesito tiempo para estudiar.
I need time (in order) to study.

Fue a la tienda para comprar pan.
He went to the store (in order) to buy bread.

Es una buena clase para tomar.
It’s a good class to take.

¿Para qué quiere Ud. mi número de teléfono?
For what purpose do you want my phone number? (We would also say “why”in this case.)

3. indicar un punto en tiempo o una fecha límite

Tengo que entregar el trabajo para el lunes.
I have to turn in the paper by Monday.

Voy a terminarlo para las once.
I’m going to finish it by 11:00.

¿Para cuándo es la próxima composición?
When is the next composition due?

4. indicar el destino

Salimos para México mañana.
We are leaving for Mexico tomorrow.

5. comparar algo con la norma

Para ser estudiante de SPAN 216, escribes muy bien el español.
For a SPAN 216 student, you write in Spanish very well.

6. indicar el empleador

Trabajo para la Universidad de Kansas.
I work for KU.

7. indicar una opinión

Para mí, aprender a usar por y para es bastante difícil.
For me, learning to use por and para is pretty hard.

Funciones de POR

Se usa POR para: Ejemplos
1.  indicar la razón 

No vas a cambiar tu tema por mí, ¿verdad?
You’re not changing your topic because of me, right?

2.  indicar la causa  (a causa de)

No fuimos al concierto por el costo exagerado de las entradas.
We didn’t go to the concert due to the cost of the tickets.

3.  indicar un medio de transporte

¿Van a viajar por avión o por coche?
Are you traveling by plane or car?

4.  indicar un medio de comunicación

Los estudiantes se comunican por email.
Students communicate (with each other) by email.

5.  indicar la ruta

Tenemos que pasar por el parque para llegar a la fiesta.
We have to go through the park to get to the party.

6. indicar “per”

El sesenta por ciento de los estudiantes estudia por la noche.
Sixty per cent of students study at night.

7. indicar el agente de una construcción pasiva; “by” en inglés

Este libro fue escrito por mi autor favorito.
This book was written by my favorite author.

8.  indicar “in exchange for”

Pago 25 dólares por el almuerzo cada semana.
I pay $25 for lunch each week.

9.  formar muchas expresiones comunes:

Por fin  (finally)
Por eso  (that’s why)
Por lo menos (at least)

Por fin llegaron a un acuerdo.
They finally reached an agreement.

10.  indicar duración de tiempo

He estudiado el español por más de 10 años.
I have studied Spanish for more than 10 years.

A more global explanation

Now that we have seen a list of the different uses of both prepositions, it might be helpful to see what each of the uses of POR and each of the uses of PARA have in common—or a more general summary of the prepositions’ meanings. Many linguists have described one of the prepositions as indicating the cause or reason for something and the other as indicating the purpose or destination of something. Can you guess which is which?

In general, PARA is characterized as being future-oriented, or the GOAL. POR, on the other hand, can be understood as more backward looking, or as describing the SOURCE. Thinking of the two prepositions as denoting prospective (PARA) or retrospective (POR) orientations really clicks with some learners of Spanish, especially when two identical sentences are contrasted:

However, you will find that this more global explanation does not always fit, and learning several specific functions for each pronoun is a practical approach. In the activities in MySpanishLab you will see many examples of the two pronouns in context before you will be asked to produce them.